Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages - Selections

Teachings on Guhyasamāja Tantra

1. Homage and Introduction

I prostrate with reverence to the lotus feet of Bhagavan Mañjuśrī, lord of all tathāgatas.

Sambhogakāya ablaze with the glory of the wondrous marks and features,
unceasingly enjoying the one-taste union of bliss and emptiness,
with nonapprehending compassion that leaves behind the extremity of peace,
I prostrate to the great conqueror possessed of the seven features.

To the compiler Vajrapāni, who gathered together the secret teachings,
to Indrabhūti, Nāgaḍākinī, Viśukalpa, glorious Saraha, Vajra Nāgārjuna,
Āryadeva, Nāgabodhi, Śākyamitra, Mātaṅgī, Candrakīrti,
and to others of the guru lineage who attained the supreme stage
by the path of Guhyasamāja, the king of tantras,
I prostrate with great joy.

I prostrate constantly to the lotus feet of Guru Mañjuśrī,
who made clear the path of Guhyasamāja, which when understood
brings supreme and fearless confidence in all other scriptures.

Driven by a great force of merit built from prayers
to preserve the teachings of the Buddha and so on,
they traveled with great hardships to the noble land
and spread this practice in the land of snow mountains.
I bow to Rinchen Sangpo, the eyes of the world,
to Lhodrak Marpa, keeper of the treasury of secrets,
to Tanak Gö Lotsāwa, supreme translator, learned in untold scripture.

I will explain this wondrous path of Guhyasamāja,
not clearly understood, no matter how hard they try,
by those who are satisfied with minimal instruction,
who look upon sutra and tantra with blinkered eyes,
for whom scriptural tradition does not arise as instruction,
who seek refuge merely in scripture,
never understanding the subtle path of reasoning
as presented by the adornments of the world,
the sole entrance into understanding the profound transmissions.

You who are interested in teachings that have arisen from
the bringing together of the Root Tantra and all explanatory tantras
on the path of scripture and reasoning,
through the instructions of the second great Vajradhara,
think how fortunate you are to enter this great secret path
traveled by Indrabhūti, Sukhanātha, Saraha, Nāgārjuna, and so on,
by Nāgayoginī and millions of other ḍākas and ḍākinīs,
and with a radiantly joyful face lit by a smile,
free yourself from distraction of the three pot-like faults, and listen.

Of all the wonderful teachings that Bhagavān Buddha, the sole beacon of light in the three worlds, supreme guide of gods and men, the source of all excellent teachings, revealed in keeping with disciple’s capacities, the most exalted, the greatest, and the most important is on the glorious Guhyasamāja, a true jewel in this world. The stages of the path that leads to supreme enlightenment for the fortunate person who practices this particular teaching is the topic that will be explained. There are six main outlines:

1. Presentation of the two types of tantras
2. The greatness of Guhyasamāja
3. Commentarial traditions on the meaning of Guhyasamāja
4. Scriptural account of the Ārya tradition
5. How its instructions were transmitted in Tibet
6. The true meanings of these precious teachings


2. The Two Types of Tantra

Presentation of the two types of tantras

1. Ways of naming highest yoga tantra
2. Division of tantra into two types in keeping with the meanings of the names
3. Specific explanation of method tantra

Ways of naming highest yoga tantra

There are many ways of categorizing highest yoga tantra into two. The Saṃvarodaya Tantra talks of yoga and yoginī tantras:
The number of yoga tantras
is ascertained at 60 million;
Likewise, the number of yoginī tantras
is said to be 160 million.

The Buddha Skull Tantra, Vajra Canopy Tantra, and others use the same terminology. The term yoga tantra applies to both method and wisdom tantras, but using yoga tantra for method tantras is to use the general for the specific. For example, the term child is the basis for the divisions “boy” and “girl,” but to use child for a boy is to use a general for a specific. The term ḍākinī tantra is also often used for yoginī tantras. Puṇḍarīka’s Stainless Light Commentary and others talk of method tantra and wisdom tantra. Nāgabodhi and Candrakīrti also refer to mother tantra as “wisdom sutra.” Tibetan lamas who have taken the name “yoginī tantra” and then created the terms mother tantra and father tantra are in keeping with the Ornament of Vajra Essence Tantra when it says:

The Ornament of Vajra Essence Tantra
is the grandmother of all ḍāka mother and ḍāka father tantras.

Division of tantra into two types in keeping with the meanings of the names

1. Points of doubt
2. Individual assertions

Points of doubt

If highest yoga tantras are divided into method tantras and wisdom tantras, then are these two types of tantras those in which method and wisdom are nondual or not? If they are, this could not be correct because the meaning of the term method and wisdom tantras refers to tantras partial to either method or wisdom. Nondual tantras, on the other hand, are tantras that combine method and wisdom equally. If it is asserted that these two types of tantras are not tantras in which method and wisdom are nondual, that too would be wrong because the meaning of yoga in the term highest yoga as found in the Later Guhyasamāja Tantra is:

Method and wisdom in union
is what is meant by yoga.

Thus it refers to method and wisdom equally combined without partiality to either. Therefore it has to be correct to say that highest tantras combining method and wisdom equally are nondual tantras. If this is the case, should it not be explained whether method and wisdom tantras on one hand and nondual tantras on the other are mutually exclusive or not?

Individual assertions

1. Others’ assertions
2. Our own position

Others’ assertions

Some Tibetan masters divide highest yoga tantras into three individual categories: method, wisdom, and nondual. They say that method and wisdom individually is what determines a tantra to be a method or wisdom tantra, whereas tantras that exhibit both are nondual tantras. They assert the Hevajra Tantra to be a nondual tantra because it says, “A tantra with the nature of method and wisdom,” and they also say that the fact that the Hevajra Tantra states that it is a yoginī tantra is not contradictory because a nondual tantra must also be a wisdom tantra. If that is the case, they would have to say that a nondual tantra also has to be a method tantra. Therefore they must explain how this does not contradict their own position of dividing highest yoga tantra into three separate categories and maintaining that method and wisdom individually determine method and wisdom tantras, whereas nondual tantras are those that exhibit both together.

Some Tibetan masters say that the “three-classification” tradition asserted that a tantra beginning with the words “This I have heard” was method tantra and one that began “Made joyful by the supreme secret” and so on was mother tantra, as asserted by Kṛṣṇācārya. Therefore, because the Hevajra root tantra contains the former, its explanatory tantra Vajra Canopy contains the latter, and its other explanatory tantra Saṃpuṭa Tantra contains both, the Hevajra Tantra is a nondual tantra. In this way they are differentiating three kinds of tantras by the words they contain. The Cakrasaṃvara root tantra, however, contains the latter phrase, while its explanatory tantras such as Later Exposition Tantra, begin “This I have heard,” and the Later Exposition Tantra actually contains both phrases. This would mean that Cakrasaṃvara also becomes a nondual tantra, in which case we must critically ask, “Where is the mother tantra?”

They reply that their position is that a tantra may teach from both the vast method aspect, the profound wisdom aspect, and so on, but that mother and father tantras are determined from a position of one of them being dominant. This means that they think the two types of tantra and nondual tantras are mutually exclusive and shows that there is no analysis of what exactly is the difference between the method and wisdom that is nondual, and the method and wisdom of father or mother tantras.

Other Tibetan scholars maintain that dividing highest yoga tantras into method, wisdom, and nondual is a provisional position, but that definitively all highest yoga tantras are nondual. They also say that a tantra exhibiting both of the criteria that establishes method and wisdom tantras individually, or exhibiting something that is neither of those two criteria, is a nondual tantra. If that is so, positing three differing criteria for the establishment of the three types of tantra, while at the same time asserting the definitive position that both method and wisdom highest yoga tantras are nondual, and positing as an example of a nondual tantra one particular tantra that you have strong liking for, is simply contradictory. If you do not accept mother and father tantras in your tradition, then this contradicts your own assertions as well as scripture. If you do accept them and say that these two types of tantra are not nondual, then that would contradict your assertion that these two tantras are nondual from a definitive position. If you accept them and say that they are nondual, then it would contradict positing three dissimilar criteria for the three types of tantra.

In all probability this thinking comes from believing nondual tantra to be superior to mother and father tantra, and to this end they forcefully establish the tantra they have the greatest liking for as nondual while positing all others as belonging to the two types of tantra.

Our own position

1. How to understand tantras of nondual method and wisdom
2. Understanding tantras of method and wisdom individually

How to understand tantras of nondual method and wisdom

1. Actual point
2. Resolving doubts

Actual point

In the terms tantras of nondual method and wisdom and tantras of method and wisdom individually, the phrase “method and wisdom” is the same. This has led to the error of believing the meaning of both terms to be the same also. Therefore, because of thinking there is only one “method and wisdom,” this has resulted in the conclusion that those tantras combining method and wisdom equally and those tantras that are partial to either method or wisdom must be mutually exclusive. It is from this understanding that the division of highest yoga tantra into three distinct categories has arisen. Therefore these two phrases should be differentiated.

It has been taught that the term yoga in highest yoga and highest yoginī means method and wisdom combined equally, without partiality to either. Method refers to the innate bliss, and wisdom refers to the mind that cognizes the reality of no-self emptiness. This point is made often and is known as one of highest yoga’s great qualities. The nature of this method and wisdom of bliss and emptiness is that they are united indivisibly, and on that basis all classes of highest yoga tantra are similar insofar as they all take this point as their highest theme. Therefore, in terms of how all highest yoga tantras are in their very nature, they exist as nondual tantras. Therefore the term method and wisdom as used in this way does not determine tantras partial to either method or wisdom. Nondual tantras in this sense are the basis for the division into father and mother tantras, but they are not to be held as a division in their own right. The Stainless Light Commentary says:

By their natures they are all yoga tantras possessing the nature of method and wisdom.

Likewise the Hevajra Tantra states:

The syllable he is great compassion; vajra means wisdom.
A tantra with the nature of method and wisdom
I will explain, so listen.

Therefore the Hevajra Tantra does not become a “wisdom” tantra because it does not say, “Listen to this wisdom tantra.” Also the Guhyasamāja says:

“Wisdom and method in union”
is stated to be the meaning of yoga;
samāja is taught to mean “coming together,”
referring to all the buddhas.

Therefore this tantra does not become a “method” tantra. This is also taught in the Primordial Buddha:

By the body of method it is not yoga, nor is it by wisdom alone;
method and wisdom in union
the Tathāgata has said to be yoga.
Vajragarbha’s Commentary makes similar comments.

Saying that Guhyasamāja does not become a method tantra and that Hevajra does not become a wisdom tantra is a refutation of these two tantras being method and wisdom tantras in terms of understanding method and wisdom as bliss and emptiness, but according to our own position, it is not an assertion that they are not a father tantra and mother tantra respectively. Mention is made of these two tantras because among mother and father tantras they are the most well known. This is also not an assertion that we do not accept method and wisdom tantras other than these two.

Resolving doubts

Compared to yoginī tantras such as Hevajra in which much is taught about bliss, not much is actually written in the Guhyasamāja corpus about bliss, whereas much is explained by way of the four types of emptiness. [6] However, do not, on account of this, hold the thought that great bliss is an exclusive feature of mother tantras and that father tantras do not take great bliss as the actual path. Mahāsiddha Kṛṣṇācārya said:

That spoken in yoga tantras
beginning “This I have heard”
is of no separate nature
to that of yoginī tantras,
like “fire is otherwise straw;”
this the Mind Vajra has said.

This means that the preface beginning “This I have heard,” found in method tantras, whose actual meaning is bliss and emptiness indivisibly combined, also mirrors the meaning found in yoginī tantras. Therefore the Conqueror has said that there is no difference in the nature of the union of bliss and emptiness of those two tantras. In particular, in determining the meaning of the Guhyasamāja preface beginning “This I have heard,” the Guhyasiddhi says:

Devoting himself to tattva,
even without special practices,
the practitioner will have attainments.
Though he follows a hundred special practices,
if tattva is lacking, there is no attainment.


Also tattva is a feature of the tantras;
the glorious Guhyasamāja makes this clear.


Creator of the tantra is the Mind Vajra;
the speaker and the spoken are the same.
Other than this there were none.
Therefore nothing other than great bliss was taught.
With the lines “This I have heard” and “was dwelling,”
the possessor of the Mind Vajra taught all buddhas.
Concerning the excellent words “was dwelling,”
just as Śrī Mahāsukhanatha has explained
in what manner they are excellent,
likewise, I too will speak a little on that.
Supremely and briefly taught on one occasion,
that spoken by the supreme one
was the true meaning of the tantras of the Buddha
and had the nature of great bliss.

Therefore he praises tattva in terms of what exists if it is present and what does not exist if it is not present, and more than once he explains that tattva refers to bliss and emptiness inseparably in union. This work was composed by Ācarya Mahāsukha, whose other name was Padmavajra. It is also quoted as a source several times in Āryadeva’s Lamp of the Compendium of Practice and is, therefore, in accord with the Ārya corpus. It points out again and again that bliss and emptiness united as the actual path is the significance of Guhyasamāja. Therefore, for those who follow the Ārya tradition, this is something to definitely understand.

Therefore, insofar as all highest yoga tantras take bliss and emptiness in indivisible union as the actuality of the path, there is no difference between any of them. With such an understanding, know that whichever of the two types of tantra we enter, it is indispensable to develop in the mind an indivisible bliss-and-emptiness method and wisdom. Moreover, do not have a superficial understanding of bliss and emptiness; it is essential that you discover the very subtle points of exclusive bliss and emptiness.

Understanding tantras of method and wisdom individually

1. The position of Stainless Light and so on
2. The position of the Vajra Canopy Tantra and so on

The position of Stainless Light and so on

If we now understand the meaning of “method and wisdom” in tantras of nondual method and wisdom, then what is its meaning when used to describe tantras of method and wisdom individually? Let us first of all look at how it is settled in Stainless Light:

Whatever the tantra, in terms of worldly truth, the categories of method and wisdom come through the divisions into mirrorlike wisdom, the purity of the aggregates and elements, and so on. The Tathāgata has said these exist because of the faculties of those with duller minds.

Therefore, from the purity of the aggregates come the male gods posited as method, and from the purity of the elements come the goddesses posited as wisdom. By this process individual tantras are established as being method or wisdom tantras. Such a method and wisdom, when compared to the previous ultimate method and wisdom, is conventional truth. Moreover, they exist because of the faculties of duller disciples. On how tantras are asserted as being method or wisdom by way of gods and goddesses, the same work says:

Conventionally, wherever the yoginīs move and the principal deity does not, that is a yoginī tantra. Wherever the method moves and the wisdom does not, that is a method tantra.

Therefore, in performing the activity of drawing in the wisdom beings into the samaya beings and so on, if the goddesses act and the male deities do not, this is a wisdom tantra. If the reverse occurs, it is said to be a method tantra. Vajragarbha’s Commentary explanation is similar. In that case then Kālacakra must be a method tantra, but does that not contradict Stainless Light when it says, “The ascertainment of the yoginī tantras is by the division of three years,” because in this section on the number of deities of yoginī tantras as determined by the number of central-channel days in three years, Kālacakra is explained as being a yoginī tantra? Using the criteria of male and female deities to establish the two types of tantra is made on the basis of predominance, but it is not definitive. In method tantras, such as the Guhyasamāja according to the Ārya, there are activities of drawing in the wisdom beings, settling, and so on that are not performed by male deities. Also there are authentic mother tantras in which drawing in, settling, and so on are not performed by female deities. Moreover, it is not contradictory for some tantras, whose presentations are shared by both types of tantra, to teach both ways of drawing in and so on. Therefore, just as the Vajra Garland is an explanatory tantra for both types of tantra yet by its nature it is taught to be a method tantra, the Kālacakra teaches features from both types of tantra and yet by its nature I think it is a yoginī tantra.

Some say that this is the very reason these types of tantras are determined to be nondual tantras. They may wish to designate these tantras as nondual, but this ignores how nondual tantras are determined in keeping with the thinking of Stainless Light, which explains that nondual tantras are determined on the basis of ultimate method and wisdom, as explained previously, and that method and wisdom in terms of moving or unmoving is determined on the conventional basis of the mental capacity of those with dull faculties. This is teaching that the method and wisdom determining mother and father tantra by way of the male and female deities meditated upon is posited on the basis of the mental capacity of those with dull faculties. It is not teaching that this applies to all levels of method and wisdom determining mother and father tantras.

The following has been said: Stainless Light teaches that in method tantras mother and father deities in union each have the same number of faces and hands representing the purity of the equinoxes, and that in wisdom tantras mother and father deities in union each have a different number of faces and hands, representing the purity of the times between the equinoxes. These are used as criteria for determining the two types of tantra. On the strength of that, where the main mother and father deity have a different number of hands and faces, and the entourage mother and father deities have equal numbers of hands and faces, we arrive at the establishment of nondual tantra. I do not see this as being a good explanation. This merely teaches the reason for there being an equal or unequal number of hands and faces in the two types of tantra. It is not a criterion for determining method and wisdom tantras because there are no defining aspects of method and wisdom, or male and female, in these passages at all.

Furthermore, determining a tantra to be nondual arises from a wish to establish it as superior to other tantras, and establishing tantras as nondual tantras using the above reason is nothing special. Even if it were the case that the main mother and father deity had a different number of hands and faces, and the entourage mother and father deities had equal numbers of hands and faces, that alone is hardly a profound point. This way of thinking should be applied to other similar kinds of spurious proofs.

The position of the Vajra Canopy Tantra and so on

1. Refuting the positions posited by others
2. Establishing the best position

Refuting the positions posited by others

1. The position of others
2. Refutation

The position of others

The positions of some Tibetans are as follows. In chapter 4 of Vajra Canopy Tantra it says:

This is the sacred ḍākinī assembly
of all the buddhas,
and to establish the five ḍākas,
the ḍākinī tantra was taught.


For those keen on killing living beings, those gone astray from the view,
and in order to gather in women,
a tantra easy to understand, not extensive,
of little text but vast in meaning,
and featuring mantras that will bring
understanding to those of lesser minds,
the essence of all tantras, the ḍākinī tantra, was taught.

According to some Tibetans the first four lines indicate that when the Tathāgata showed himself in the form of a ḍākinī and was the central deity in female form, or because he was surrounded mainly by an entourage of women, the tantra taught was a mother tantra. Likewise, they assert that when the Tathāgata showed himself in the form of the lords of the five buddha families and was surrounded mainly by an entourage of men, the tantra taught was a father tantra. This is because they think that the verse directly teaches the former and so indirectly teaches the latter.

Likewise, on the basis of the second citation they maintain that mother tantras were taught in order to tame those non-Buddhists who enjoy killing, hold wrong views, and are on wrong paths, and on the strength of that, father tantra was taught in order to tame those of our own doctrine who possess the right view and thereby desire to gain enlightenment. They assert that these are the two features that distinguish the two types of tantra.

In chapter 13 of Vajra Canopy Tantra it says:

In order to tame men ḍāka tantras were taught;
in order to gather women, ḍākinī tantra was taught.

Therefore some assert that two types of tantra were taught for these two needs, and it is this that determines the two types of tantra.

In Illumination of the Secret Reality it says:

Of the processes arising from generation and completion,
ḍāka is taught to be generation,
and completion is asserted as ḍākinī.

Therefore others assert that father tantras teach the realities of the generation stage and mother tantras teach the realities of the completion stage.


The meaning of the first citation is that the Ḍākinī Vajra Canopy Tantra was taught in order to establish the mandalas of the five classes of ḍākas who are surrounded by a host of ḍākinīs that make up the entourage of every buddha of the five families. This is made abundantly clear from the preceding text, and so it is not for identifying the nature of a mother tantra. On the five classes of ḍākas, the previous lines state:

The five mandalas are spoken of: those of Vajrin, Nitya, Vajratejas, Padmanṛtśvara, and Hayarāja.

These are the five lords of the buddha families themselves, and so even the principal deities of the mandala are not manifest in female form. Therefore the explanation of the first citation is incorrect.

The explanation of the second citation is also not right. Just before this citation Akṣobhya and the other tathāgatas ask the bodhisattvas why yoginīs and ḍākinīs were being gathered within this vajra canopy, and in answer Maitreya and the other bodhisattvas reply:

In the beginning Vajradhara
first made a prayer for enlightenment, vowing,
“I will free those born from eggs and every other living being.”

If that is so why should women be excluded?
For those keen on killing living beings . . .

And so on up to “the ḍākinī tantra was taught.” Therefore, in order to gather in women, this essence of ḍākinī tantra was taught, and because the question concerned a vajra canopy, that tantra was the Vajra Canopy Tantra. Just before this citation the text reads:

From the 500,000 Hevajra
has this essence been compiled.

Therefore it is called “essence of all tantras.” These lines are not criteria for a general determination of mother tantra. This can also be understood from the phrase, “of little text.”

But what is the meaning of the answer to the question on why women were being gathered inside the vajra canopy? Other scriptures teach that there is no actual attainment of buddhahood in the form of a woman. This question here, however, was on the basis of the teaching that in highest yoga tantra, someone who practices in that form can achieve the highest siddhi. The answer reminds us that the pledge made during the first generation of bodhicitta is to bring all living beings to enlightenment, and therefore, it would be improper to cast women aside. Beings can attain the highest siddhi by relying upon this path in that form, as can those of great wickedness, as illustrated by the line “For those keen on killing living beings,” and those who for the time being have wrong views. Therefore it was in order to gather these beings that the Vajra Canopy was taught. So how can it be said to teach the criteria for determining a tantra to be mother tantra?

Concerning the explanation that the two types of tantra were explained in order to tame men and to gather women, in this tantra mother tantras are also referred to as yoga tantras. Also, it is in consideration of the fact that the Vajra Canopy was taught to attract women that it says, “the ḍākinī tantra was taught.”

The Hevajra yoga tantra,
taught first by the Conqueror,
was later compiled into yoginī tantra
to attract those of female form.

Therefore, like the previous citation, this states that first the extensive five hundred thousand tantra was taught and later condensed to be taught as the yoginī tantra Vajra Canopy in order to attract women. In both the Vajra Canopy and the two-chapter Hevajra Tantra, Hevajra is said to be a mother tantra. Therefore calling it a yoga tantra here is done in terms of yoga tantra being the basis for the division into father yoga and mother yoga tantra. It is not that it is yoga tantra juxtaposed with yoginī tantra.

The way that Vajra Canopy was taught for the purposes of attracting women is explained above, and the third citation can also be explained that way. Alternatively, it can also be explained on the basis of both father tantra and mother tantra as follows: The principal form needed for jewel-like beings to attain the supreme siddhi by way of highest yoga tantra can be male or female. In the tantras and their commentaries, however, there are many descriptions of the practitioners mostly as men and the consorts (mudrā) as being the four types of women. In these cases not only the man but the consort, too, is described as being a practitioner, because it said many times that just as method is liberated by the circumstance of wisdom, so the wisdom female is liberated by the circumstance of method. Such methods are explained in both types of tantra, but the definitions of a consort, their types, the ways to examine them, how to rely upon them, and how exalted wisdom is produced in reliance upon them are not as extensively explained in father tantras as they are in yoginī tantras. Therefore, in this way, the citation is saying that the two kinds of tantras were taught in order to tame those men and women. Moreover, this citation merely explains the need for the two types of tantra; it is not defining the criteria for determining father tantra and mother tantra. For example, the Guhyasamāja was taught primarily for the jewellike disciple, but that is not what makes it a father tantra. If this were not the case, then the fact that ḍākinī tantras were taught to bring understanding to those with lesser minds should be the criterion for determining them to be mother tantras.

The explanation of the citation from Illumination of the Secret Reality is also not correct. This work states:

. . . and coupling, these are the four aspects.
Coming together is taught to be of two aspects—
namely, processes of generation and completion.
Yoga teaches generation,
and completion is spoken of in yoginī.

Two organs in meditative union

is the meaning of “coming together.”

This passage is saying that of the four tantras of gazing, laughing, holding hands, and coupling, for the fourth of these, which refers to tantras that involve the coming together of the organs, yoga and yoginī tantras were taught. The first teaches a process arising from generation and the second a process arising from completion, but this is not a description of the generation and completion stages. Just before the above citation, Illumination of the Secret Reality says:

The path of glorious Guhyasamāja,
whose nature is that of the two stages;
the beautiful Guhyasamāja,
prime source of all tantras.

This, therefore, contradicts any notion that yoga tantras such as Guhyasamāja do not primarily teach the points of the completion stage but mainly teach the points of the generation stage.

Some claim that Kṛṣṇācārya asserts that the tantra introduction “This I have heard” was for father tantra and the introduction “Made joyful by the supreme secret,” and so on, is for mother tantra. This is not his assertion. He is saying that the phrases “This I have heard” found in yoga tantras and the substituted phrase “Made joyful by the supreme secret” found in some mother tantras are no different in terms of the actual union of bliss and emptiness. He is not saying that these two phrases are criteria for determining the two types of tantra. The actual citation has already been quoted.

Many other ways of determining the two types of tantras have been put forward by Tibetans and some Indians. For the most part, however, their criteria contain no defining aspects of male and female, or method and wisdom, that could be used to determine method and wisdom tantras. Moreover, when they state “mainly teaching method and mainly teaching wisdom,” there is no explanation of what method and wisdom actually refer to and no explanation of the difference between mainly teaching and mainly not teaching. Also, their explanations of criteria for determining the two types of tantras merely look at what is conducive to each of the the two types of tantra. Therefore it is not difficult to understand how they are incorrect, and I will not write about them here.

Establishing the best position

So what is the way to determine father and mother tantras? Although you can posit that a differentiation could be commonly made based on the generation-stage collections of the two types of tantras, the differences have to be established primarily from the completion stages. On the basis of method and wisdom being bliss and emptiness, it has been explained previously the way to establish the two types of tantras as nondual tantras without necessarily determining them to be individually tantras of method or wisdom. Even in terms of method and wisdom being bliss and emptiness, a greater emphasis on one or the other is also not acceptable as criteria. This is because the greater emphasis on bliss found in the mother tantra Hevajra and others is not found in the Guhyasamāja, and so it would erroneously follow that the Hevajra was a father tantra and the Guhyasamāja was a mother tantra.

Therefore, concerning method and wisdom spoken of in terms of tantras being method or wisdom by way of the completion stage, wisdom is the ultimate exalted wisdom of great bliss, and method is the conventional illusory body. Establishing a tantra as a yoginī tantra by way of the first criteria, chapter 13 of the Vajra Canopy says:

“Bhagavān, how are they named yoginī tantras?”
The holder of the vajra spoke,
“The method of the perfection of wisdom
is spoken of as being the yoginī.
Because of which, by engaging in that reality
through the yoga of mahāmudrā,
they are called yoginī tantras.”

This passage succinctly determines mother tantra in general terms. Its meaning is as follows: They teach the way to “engage” in the ultimate “reality” of emptiness by way of the yoga of mahāmudrā. “Because of which” tantras such as the Vajra Canopy “are named yoginī tantras.” This reason that determines such tantras as mother tantras is expressed in the two lines beginning “The method of the . . .”

To explain that in more detail: The kunda-like bodhicitta descends from the crown to the jewel in the descending process, and it is followed by the bodhicitta returning to the top of the head in the stable ascent process to produce the four joys. Stages of increasing insight arise from engaging in the ultimate reality of emptiness by way of the mahāmudrā of innate bliss inseparably united with emptiness. A tantra that primarily teaches the above, and does not primarily teach the method of creating the conventional illusory body from the five-light wind acting as the mount for the exalted wisdom of great bliss, is a yoginī tantra. This is because this innate perfection of wisdom, which is the method of accomplishing the dharmakāya, is a yoga involving the inseparable union of bliss and emptiness, and as creator of the dharmakāya, it is primarily the wisdom aspect on the side of emptiness. Therefore it is mother.

Establishing a tantra as being a father tantra by the second criteria, the Ḍākā Ocean Tantra says:

In the yogas, in the kings of tantras,
know the divisions of the various rituals.
With the clear light and the illusory,
I have taught the illusory to the world.

The meaning of this is as follows: The verse says, “have taught.” Taught where? In the “king of yoga tantras.” Taught what? The “illusory” body. To whom? To “the world,” meaning to his disciples. Taught by whom? “I”, the Teacher. How was it taught? By the methods of accomplishing the illusory body through the stages of the four empty states, consisting of “clear light” and the preceding three. By what will it be accomplished? By knowing well the “divisions,” or features, “of various rituals” taught in these tantras.

This can be explained in more detail. A tantra that primarily teaches the following processes is designated a father yoga tantra: The winds gradually withdraw into the heart, which is the location for the arising of the clear light. From this process the four empty states arise in forward order. After this, in the emerging process, the four empty states appear in reverse order, from which the exalted wisdom of the empty states is created. From the five lights of the wind of the clear light, the conventional illusory body will be achieved. Such a tantra is a father yoga tantra because it teaches a yoga that inseparably combines the body produced from the winds with the exalted wisdom of the empty states, and it is father because it teaches the causes for accomplishing the form body, primarily the method aspect on the side of appearance.

Concerning the meaning of the citation above from Illumination of the Secret Reality, the “generation” of the illusory body, which is the “process arising from” the four empty states, and the process arising from the ever-increasing engaging in the reality that is “complete,”—that has existed, in other words, since time without beginning—are the two processes primarily taught by the two tantras. Therefore its message is similar to the other two citations.

The phrases “primarily teaching” and “primarily not teaching” indicate whether the respective tantra does or does not explain the above with particular emphasis on one or the other and do not indicate merely whether they are taught at all.

If these two differentiating characteristics can be observed in the main father and mother tantras as explained by authentic masters, then other method and wisdom tantras are branch tantras to be included in these two main types of tantras. Therefore even those tantras in which this process is not evident should be explained in terms of one of these two categories. Consequently, this method of distinguishing tantras applies to all mother and father tantras.



How to cite this document:
© The Institute of Tibetan Classics, A Lamp to Illuminate the Five Stages (Wisdom Publications, 2013)

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